Here’s How I Created a Spectacular $50 Rainbow Mural in My Daughter’s Room
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Rainbow decor is a big trend, but this bold wall mural approach takes a bit of the cutesy out of the look, and adds some drama and graphic flair. If the thought of painting a huge, statement-making rainbow on your wall seems impossible, I’m here to tell you that it’s not nearly as difficult, or as much of a commitment as you might think. I painted my first rainbow mural in my daughter’s room three years ago, and it was one of the happiest improvements I’ve ever made in our home. It was so happy, in fact, that shortly after completing the first, I painted another, on the ceiling of our sunroom. For around $40 ($8 per can of paint) I was able to create a huge statement wall that cost me far less than the $400 rainbow decal I’d spotted online. It was exactly what we needed to get through the dreary Chicago winter.
In terms of difficulty, drawing and painting the rainbow really isn’t a challenge if you have some experience working with paint. As for the rainbow sketch, it’s actually drawn with a large-scale DIY compass using only string and tack, making it super easy to get up on the wall. If you aren’t experienced with painting a wall (or a canvas) and the thought of loading up a paintbrush with house paint makes your hands sweat, you might actually want to pass, and employ someone else to do the job (call me, I travel!).
I think the best way to decide if this project is for you, is by answering these questions: Have you painted your fair share of bedrooms? Do you feel confident freehanding a slightly curved line? And last, do you know how to load up a paintbrush with just enough paint to give you a continuous line — without the drip? If you feel solid about all of those things, then I have TOTAL confidence in your ability to paint a rainbow! Ready to learn how?
Prep Your Wall
Can you paint on a textured wall? Sure, but no one wants to, because it’s messy and difficult. Instead, choose a nice, smooth wall to paint your first rainbow. Before you get started, give it a good wash with a wet cloth. Yep, scrape all those kid boogers, dog slobber, and whatever gross substance found its way there right off the wall. Wash it down with soap and water, or if it’s really bad, you can use some TSP.
Choose Your Palette
This might be the most thrilling part of the entire process! Take some time by yourself, grab a coffee, and head to the paint store. Go wild pulling paint swatches, playing around with color combinations until you find your favorites. It’s a good idea to have some inspiration before you go, so spend some time in the room visualizing colors that would look best with the decor. If you’ve purchased a bedding set or curtains, that’s a great place to start! Pull a few key colors from the linens, then look for colors that complement them once you’re at the paint swatch wall at the store.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can always go monochromatic. To do this, decide on one color for the room, then have the folks in the paint store help you choose the same color in varying saturations and tones.
I like to paint an odd number of stripes on my rainbows so I chose five colors, but it’s really up to you. One thing I found helpful in deciding on the final colors for the wall was to photograph each of my favorite rainbow swatch combinations, so I could flip back and forth on my phone and get a better feel for the combo that was really drawing me in.
Gather Your Supplies
It may surprise you to know you really won’t need a lot for this project besides paint, paint brushes, a long string, a nail or thumbtack, a tape measure, and a pencil. Depending on the size of your rainbow, all you really need in the way of paint are sample pots. I prefer going to Sherwin Williams for paint for many reasons (quality and color selection to name a few), but the number one reason is because their 1-quart sample pots are usually on sale, and are more than enough paint to complete a stripe in your rainbow. If you’re unable to get a sample (they’ve been unavailable because of supply chain issues), 1 quart should be more than enough. It’s also helpful to have wet wipes, paper towels, and solo cups on hand.
Decide on the Size and Placement of Your Rainbow
Spend some time in the room you’ll be painting and decide which wall would be best for the rainbow. If it’s a small room, consider splitting the rainbow between two walls like I did: The midpoint can start in the corner, or it can be slightly to the left or right or the corner, leaving a smaller portion of the rainbow on the adjoining wall. In the photo above, the peak of the rainbow was 6’ tall, with each stripe being 10” wide.
Draw the Rainbow
Drawing the rainbow is actually very easy, because you can create a sort of DIY large-scale compass using a string and a nail or thumbtack. Tack the string to the base of the wall where the bottom center of your rainbow will be, then extend the string so that it stretches to the top middle of the rainbow. Pull the string taut and make a loop, or twist it around your pencil a few times to keep your pencil in place. With the string taut, place the pencil at the top middle portion of the rainbow and begin to draw the arch down one side, stopping when you reach the base of the wall. Place the taut string back up at the middle top and draw the arch down to create the other half of the rainbow. Once your outermost stripe has been drawn, shorten the string by the predetermined width of the stripes (mine in the photo above were 10”), and repeat the steps. Continue to shorten the string and repeat the steps until each stripe of your rainbow has been drawn on the wall. Then remove the string and tack.
Time to Paint!
The best way to start painting the stripes on your rainbow is to start at the top and work your way down, skipping a band in between as you go to leave time for drying and to provide more room for error. Load your brush with a good amount of paint, wipe it on the side of the can (or cup — I like a solo cup for this part) to bring the bristles together in a nice line, and follow the pencil line. Apply a good amount of pressure and try to lift your paintbrush as few times as possible as you trim out the stripe. After you lay a continuous line, go back and feather in the inner edges for a smooth paint transition once you are ready to fill in the middle. Be careful not to use too much paint! You want to avoid drips, and you’ll most certainly need two coats minimum, so take your time.
Skip the stripe below the one you just painted so you can allow the bottom edge to dry completely before bringing another paint color in close contact. The best way to think about this is: Paint all odd-numbered stripes first (1, 3, 5), then once they’re dry go back and paint the even stripes.
More Helpful Tips for Painting a Rainbow Mural
- Wet wipes are a game-changer when working on wall murals. If you catch a spill or squiggly line quickly, there’s almost zero evidence of the accident!
- Having extra paint from the original background wall color on hand is helpful. Once the rainbow is completely finished, you can use it to go over any imperfections or wonky lines around the outer and inner edges of the rainbow.
- I love these 2” Wooster paint brushes for this job, and went overboard and bought one for each color stripe in my rainbow. It makes the job go faster when you don’t have to spend time washing out your brush between colors! But if you’re looking to save costs, there’s no need to purchase multiple brushes!
- If you do use multiple brushes, place each paintbrush in a zip-top bag between uses to keep the paint from drying out or getting clumpy. (That way, you don’t have to clean the brushes between coats!)
- Painters tape is great to cover your baseboards, but don’t bother with it when trying to make a perfectly arched rainbow. It takes so much time and can make your rainbow look like a bunch of short lines all strung together. Trust yourself and follow your line guides!
- Maybe skip that second cup of coffee or Diet Coke right before you start painting — a steady hand will make the job much easier! On that note, this is definitely one of those jobs where kids can’t help. Trust me; it’ll save everyone’s sanity.
- If you become frustrated with how things are going, walk away for a little while and come back to it later. Take some time practicing loading up your brush and painting continuous lines on scrap wood or cardboard, then go back to your mural when you feel comfortable.
- Last, and most important — it’s just paint! If you need to, you can always paint over your rainbow and start again fresh another day.